How to practice roller derby when you’re traveling with no skates

Setting off on a long international trip without my beloved skates was bittersweet. While I have absolutely no complaints about being able to travel the world for a few months, I love derby and was worried about staying in decent enough shape to hit the track running (so to speak) when I get back.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered it’s not that hard to incorporate derby skills into everyday travel experiences. If you find yourself abroad without skates, here are some drills I’d recommend.

Core

Sit next to an elderly woman on a bus traveling close to freeway speeds on a narrow paved road with one and a half lanes, no shoulder and no suspension. Try to avoid squishing her like a fly every time you race around a hairpin turn or hit a pothole a little too hard. If you can do this for three hours without injuring your seatmate, it should be equivalent to a few hundred crunches.

Thighs

At some point, you will eat something and realize an hour or so later that you need a bathroom, now. Most likely, the only toilet available will be an India squat toilet (pictured below).

Rather than reacting with dispair, view this as an opportunity to keep your thigh muscles rock-hard as you evacuate your bowels while trying not to think about the various microbes that could be responsible for your predicament.

If you get through an entire course of traveler’s diarrhea without using a Western toilet once, it’s safe to assume you’ve kept your derby stance in good shape.

Upper body

Towards the last week of your time in any given place, you’ll realize you’ve purchased an obscene quantity of things that can’t possibly be carried home, like five liters of mezcal or six pounds of black tea and assorted spices plus a mini library of Indian novels. Pack your excess belongings into shopping bags and carry them from your hotel to an autorickshaw, then onto a bus, then a train, then another bus, then the airport. Do three reps for best results.

Bridging

When two members of your group are walking at a determined tempo through the throng of people at St. Mark’s Square in Venice while one stays behind to take pictures of buildings, you may find yourself panicking because you’re dangerously close to being separated in a place with thousands of people where no one has a cell phone that works and you didn’t think to come up with a meeting place.

To avoid disaster, straddle the distance between them with your arms outstretched. For extra points, you can yell, “Bridging!”, though you will further degrade the already low opinion the entire world (deservedly) has about American tourists.

Positional blocking

After twenty minutes of waiting in line to get into the Accademia to see Michaelangelo’s David, you’ll be approached by a group of eight people insisting they were told to come over from the group line and cut their way to the front of the reserved ticket line. When they refuse to go to the back of your line like decent, civilized people (“I’m a professor! I’ve been doing this for 12 years,” one will object), use that A-to-V blocking stance to prevent them from cutting you in line. Enjoy the angry look on their faces as they get jostled back half a dozen spots.

Agility

At some point, you’ll find yourself across the street from something you want to reach. In the U.S., you might find a crosswalk or wait for a light and walk nonchalantly across, but expecting that sort of order in India (or Italy or Mexico, for that matter) will get you laughed out of the country. Instead, navigate your way across two directions of traffic by stepping over cow shit, stopping on a dime to let a bus rush past six inches from your face and jumping sideways at the last minute to avoid a downed electrical wire. Your goal is to make it to the other side without being killed. Daily reps advised for best results.

Derby stance

In the course of visiting a fishing village near Kochi, you may run into a group of local women who are adept at making rope from coconut husks and then want to demonstrate the strength of their rope by playing tug-of-war with you. Crouch low like you’re getting ready to absorb the force of a jammer hitting your wall and put on your best, “You’re not getting past me” face. You’ll win the tug-of-war game and the respect (or at least wild amusement and giggles) of the assembled onlookers.